International education, as it exists today, was conceived as a way to improve a world that no longer exists (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007). Structures and concepts that were considered to be foreign until a few years ago are now considered a requirement and are built into the curriculum at most forward-looking schools—even if those schools are not considered to be international. The challenges that existed when educators founded the first international schools and their supporting entities have apparently been overcome or have morphed into different opportunities for improvement. With the advent of globalization and a new world order in this new century, new challenges have been identified: “living and working with difference,” “assessing problems from a variety of different perspectives,” “acquiring a better understanding of the driving forces behind globalization,” “the balance of economic power is shifting to different parts of the world,” “coping with cultural differences,” and “seeking new styles of working” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 408). To these five challenges one may add five others in this new, interconnected and globalized world: language barriers, the role of religion, the need for a common knowledge base, the need for a common technological base, and ethical considerations.
For the last century or so, English speakers have benefited from the preeminence of the English language in global trade and global culture (Neeley, 2012). But it has not always been this way: in the past, the dominant language has changed frequently and not always peacefully. For the last two thousand years in the West, for example, the world has known Greek, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English as their main languages for trade and diplomacy. English is the current global language but it is being challenged by Chinese in some regions and by Spanish in others (Bugel, 2012).
If one of the premises of international education is to provide a multicultural experience that prepares students to interact with different cultures and thrive in that environment (Nieto & Bode, 2008), educators must prepare their pupils for a world where language can be as varied as culture. Due to various reasons, many countries resist the imposition of a common language and have reservations about adopting particular ones. In such cases, the prevalence of either the national language or a different regional or global language for trade may cause difficulties in a globalized world. International educators must recognize this challenge and prepare to address it.
One of the ways that this language barrier can be addressed is through the use of technology. Companies such as Apple, Google and others have made great strides in the voice interactive aspect of software and hardware for various types of intercultural contact (Martin, 2012). There are applications available for smart phones, tablets and computers that allow users to communicate via instant translation. This technology is still in its infancy, but one can see the benefit of future, more evolved versions of this type of interactive technology. Users will no longer need to know the intricacies of a foreign language because the technology will provide that for him or her as the interaction takes place.
Another possible solution for the language barrier is to prepare students to become life-long learners of new languages in addition to providing them the foundations of the main languages spoken in the world today. Learning a language is not a static event—it is an on-going effort that requires dedication and the making of connections (Brooks & Kempe, 2013). If students are prepared to become true learners of foreign languages, they will be equipped to make the connections and understand how one language relates to another, making it easier to learn new idioms along the way.
A curriculum that includes a strong foreign language basis is a curriculum that prepares students to learn new and challenging languages. By becoming a life-long language learner, the individual will be better prepared to overcome any language barriers and interact with those who may not speak one of the dominant languages in the world, possibly providing him or her an advantage over others who are not able (or unwilling) to interact with that individual or company at all.
The Role Of Religion
For most Americans and Westerners, religion is confined to a personal choice that has no bearing on how government or companies operate. Religion in the West is viewed as a compartmentalized aspect of an individual and not as an overarching force that shapes how the country behaves and is organized (Koenig, Zaben, & Khalifa, 2012). But this was not always the case in the West, and it is certainly not the case in many regions of the East. Western Europe was once partitioned into countries that had national churches that held real political power. For centuries, the separation of Church and State was not a commonly held view and was instead regarded as a way to separate humankind from god (Dickinson & Stausberg, 2007).
It may be difficult for Westerners to understand how deeply pervasive religion is in some non-Western cultures. Countries that live under a theocracy (e.g. Iran), where religion cannot be understood as being separate from the State, understand that the rule of god in the world takes place where his agents are in charge in his name (Koenig, Zaben, & Khalifa, 2012). This type of politico-religious setting brings many challenges to international education because it requires educators to prepare students to interact with a worldview that may seem alien and retrograde to them. It may be extremely difficult for a Western student to fully understand how deeply ingrained religion is in some non-Western cultures, where religion may guide all aspects of an individual’s life, such as how he or she bathes, talks, dresses, congregates or does business.
One of the ways international educators can address this challenge is by preparing students to understand their own culture first and then preparing them to build on that knowledge of how culture is developed and introduce them to other cultures that were built differently. What may seem alien to a student in the current century, may seem understandable if he of she comprehends how his or her own culture came to be, and what role religion has played along the way.
Another possible solution for this very difficult challenge is to expose students to different religious beliefs. What one knows academically may not seem as foreign when encountered in real life. This is a particularly hard challenge to overcome because the separation of Church and State that is prevalent in the West many times forbids the teaching or practice of religion in schools (McFarlane, 2012). If educators were allowed to freely talk about religious topics and even bring their own personal religious experiences to the classroom, students would be better prepared to deal with the very religious world around them.
Common Knowledge Base
An increasingly globalized world requires an increasingly globalized education. This means that all parties need to have a common knowledge base in order to interact and exchange ideas. A common knowledge base could help to avoid undue exploitation of less prepared parties and would foster a more egalitarian base for trade. For example, if a country did not know the value or use of uranium, it would probably not be looking for it in its soil. And, as a result, it would not reap the true financial benefits of selling uranium to countries that understand its value in building nuclear power plants or even weapons. This knowledge about the different uses for uranium would allow nations that have the metal to sell it at a price that reflects its true value.
A common knowledge base is needed for the beneficial exchange of ideas and goods for both parties, and for the expansion of global aims. For instance, how can a tribe in the middle of Africa benefit from the goal of establishing a lunar base? Or how can fishermen in Southeast Asia relate to and benefit from the age of computers? A global, common knowledge base would bring enormous potential for growth because it would tap the intellectual capacities of all humankind, and not only of those who are governing or controlling global affairs at the time.
International educators have their work cut out for them in this regard. In order to reach the remotest regions of the world, for example, educators will need a platform that will allow them to do so in a way that is relevant and valuable to all. Special care will need to be taken not to impose a culture or values onto those who are being taught, but at the same time globalization by definition will change the local culture. A platform for teaching a common knowledge base may be technological in nature, or may rely upon time-tested techniques of in-person teaching and coaching. It may be argued that the format is not as important as the content when attempting to prepare people to join the current state of knowledge (Cochrane et al., 2013).
Another possible solution for this challenge would be to implement a global effort to reach the unreached and move beyond the Education For All goals (Carm, n.d.). In a truly globalized world, citizens will need much more than basic reading, writing and Math skills—they will instead need to know how the world is organized, how it operates, what cultures exist and how they interact, etc. This is not a small challenge and it will take massive investment and effort in order to overcome it.
Common Technological Base
The challenge of a common knowledge base would be much easier to address if a common technological base were in place. This common technological base is a requirement for a true global interaction that enables the most distant parties—distance here may be understood not only as geographical distance, but also as cultural, religious, ideological and financial disparities—to interact and to build upon their interaction through more efficient and faster means.
The advancements in technology cannot reach their full cost cutting, time saving, efficiency improving potential if all parties don’t have access to it. The digital divide, where certain countries have access to the latest technology while others may not have access to it at all (or to a very limited version of this technology) still acts as a barrier for true globalization (Sparks, n.d.). International educators must operate in that type of environment and think of ways to reach those who have access to the most modern technology and those who do not.
One possible solution to this problem would be to implement curricula that are intrinsically built upon technology. In many parts of the world, cost is one of the main barriers to technology adoption (Ceccagnoli & Jiang, 2013). Cost per unit can be decreased through volume. If technologically advanced nations were to adopt a platform for teaching and learning that was based on the usage of a certain technology, the cost per unit of adopting that technology would fall considerably due to volume. Less affluent nations could then reap the benefits of this massive technological adoption and use this technology in their classrooms (or in whatever setting that may be appropriate for their students).
By building the curriculum as an integral part of the technology, educators would be assured of adoption in volume large enough to bring about economies of scale and a lower per unit cost. This will be particularly challenging because curriculum is content, and the current direction of content publication is to make it platform-neutral. In order to write a curriculum that is interconnected with technology in such a way that makes it impossible (or very expensive) to separate the two, educators will need to come together and draw on talents around the world so that the curriculum will be globally relevant and strictly tied to the technology chosen as the means for that content to be distributed.
As the world becomes more globalized, different cultures with different values are interacting on a daily basis through trade, conversations and partnerships. One aspect that will need to be addressed by international educators is the ethical behavior and decisions involved in international interactions. For instance, is it permissible for a company to bribe a government official in order to expedite a decision? Or how far can lobbying go in getting lawmakers to write a law benefitting a company or trade with another government?
Ethical considerations will play a deeper role as relationships between and among nations are deepened. What may be considered ethical in the West may be frowned upon or even illegal in the East (Koehn, 2013). What may be a common practice in Argentina may be illegal in the United States. Whose laws will multinational companies follow? And why? These questions pose a serious challenge for international educators because these are lessons usually taught in the classroom that are based on cultural values.
One of the ways that this challenge may be addressed is through true multicultural education, exposing students to different ways of understanding the same issue. By looking at a particular issue through multiple perspectives, it may be possible to prepare a student to make the correct decision when confronted with a particular situation or other issues. Critical thinking skills are of utmost importance because of all the variables involved in difficult ethical decisions. An awareness of the other, combined with a solid preparation in intercultural studies will help to prepare the citizen to deal with these decisions when the time comes.
Another way to face this challenge is to make Multicultural Ethics a mandatory part of the common knowledge base addressed previously. Not all cultures know that individuals in other nations think differently and hold different values. By making this topic a part of the common knowledge base, international educators will prepare students who are better prepared to respond to potentially unethical situations in an informed way; and that will allow them to be ethical and true to their own values, but also to be efficient global partners who are not exploited and do not exploit others.
The challenges ahead of international educators in this new century are multi-faceted and complex. In addition to the challenges listed by Hayden, Levy and Thompson (2007), five other challenges can serve as great opportunities for global interaction and evolution: overcoming language barriers, understanding the role of religion, having a common knowledge base, sharing a common technological base, and understanding various ethical considerations would help to reshape the world and keep it moving forward in a truly interconnected way, enabling most nations to overcome poverty and join the same century as the leading nations of the world.
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